In 1926 he graduated from Hyogo Prefectural High School and entered the Nihonga department of Tokyo School of Fine Arts (currently Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), and graduated with commendation in 1931. In 1940 he married Sumi Kawasaki.
In July 1945, he was drafted into the army and received anti-tank training and was demobilized later that year. He spent a lot of time travelling, mostly in Japan and China, but also made several trips to Europe. In 1933, he studied German at the Berlin University and in 1962 he travelled around the Nordic countries.
In 1947, he received the special prize at Nitten, the largest competition art exhibition in Japan. This led him to pursue seeking his own style, later found as a landscape is his major motif. In 1950, he exhibited a painting "the road," in which his simplicity was well recognized. He traveled Scandinavian countries, Germany, Austria, and China, and drew many works themed the sceneries of these countries.
In 1953, he was selected to paint 27 fusama-e murals for a Japanese house, called Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens, which was being constructed in Nagoya in 1953 for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Higashiyama, who had been a classmate of architect Junzo Yoshimura, was chosen above a number of other well-known Japanese painters such as Maeda Seison and Yokoyama Taikan, to paint mountain scenes with black ink on the fusuma and the tokonoma alcove. The Shofuso was moved to Philadelphia in 1958 where the murals were on view until they were destroyed by vandals in 1974.
In 1960, he painted a large mural entitled ”Sun, Moon, and The Four Seasons”, at the Tōgū Palace of the Crown Prince. A second imperial commission followed, resulting in the 1968 mural, “Tide at Daybreak” (Asaake no Ushio), which is part of the Nami-no-ma hall of Tokyo Imperial Palace. This large painting is apparently modeled on the rocks of the Oumi Island in Yamaguchi prefecture. The dimensions of the painting are approximately 3.8 meters in height, and about 14.3 meters horizontally, and is located in the
He also painted several murals of Japanese and Chinese landscapes, for the Tōshōdai-ji temple, completed in 1975 and 1980.
- 1956 received the Japan Art Academy Award for "Twilight”
- 1965 appointed as a member of Japan Art Academy.
- 1969 ”Tide at Daybreak” won the Mainichi Art Award.
- 1984 Elected as a member of Order Pour De Le Merite Für Wissenschaften Und Künste.
- 1992 Awarded the UNESCO Picasso Gold Medal.
- 1994 Higashiyama Kaii art gallery was opened as part of the Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum
- "Kaii Higashiyama: A retrospective". Nikkei inc. Retrieved 2008-07-01.
- "Kaii Higashiyama- The Japanese master". James Tan Gallery. Retrieved 2008-07-01.
- "Kaii Higashiyama biography". Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Museum. Retrieved 2008-07-01.
- The collected works of Kaii Higashiyama. Shorewood Fine Art Books. OCLC 78302874.
- Yasunari Kawabata. Collection of Higashiyama-Kaii's Major Paintings. Tokyo: Shueisha Co.
- Artworks and history of Kaii Higashiyama
- NAGANO PREFECTURAL SHINANO ART MUSEUM / HIGASHIYAMA KAII GALLERY